The Malik Report
by George Malik on 08/05/13 at 03:46 AM ET
Following yesterday's theme to some extent, the Free Press's Helene St. James profiles another Swede who's become something of a controversial figure among Red Wings fans in one Jonas Gustavsson, who has a year remaining on a contract that will pay him $1.5 million this upcoming season.
Gustavsson obviously had a crappy 2013 season--he battled a chronic groin injury for the vast majority of the year, and during the seven games he did play, his 2-2-and-1 record reflects his status as a goaltender that never really gained his coach's trust.
Given that Gustavsson neither played during the lockout and given that he was just starting to rediscover "his game" as a big, puck-blocking goalie whose aggressiveness and strong glove hand worked to his advantage despite a somewhat chaotic style--all after spending a trio of injury-plagued seasons with a Toronto Maple Leafs team whose goalie coach wanted the 6'3" netminder to play very deep in his net--I kind of feel like Gustavsson earned at least an "incomplete" grade.
He had very little healthy time to adjust to playing for a new team, and he wasn't healthy enough to do much more than work to rediscover the things he did well as a pro player in Sweden under the tutelage of Wings goalie coach Jim Bedard...
And given the Wings' somewhat desperate playoff-qualifying status going down the stretch, Babcock had little choice but to go with the workhorse Howard because the team absolutely had to win, even at the potential cost of burning Howard out or exposing him to injury (see: the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons).
I know that many of you want to see Petr Mrazek brought up immediately as Howard's back-up, and sometimes watching Gustavsson struggle with self-confidence and a defense that he was still unfamiliar with kicking rebounds toward (he's definitely a puck-blocker, and it'll be interesting to see how much of those rock-hard thigh rises he loses under the NHL's new goalie pad height-determining formula), I sure as hell thought that the Wings basically didn't have a reliable back-up.
But problem with the "promote Mrazek now" theory involves a) the fact that the Red Wings have no intentions of sitting Mrazek for 50 games while the guy making $5.29 million plays and b) they're right--sitting doesn't benefit Mrazek at all, developmentally speaking or otherwise. If he's going to push Howard for playing time in a year or two, he needs to continue to evolve into a more consistent pro while playing oodles of games for the Grand Rapids Griffins, not while spending his time charting faceoffs on the Wings' bench.
So yes, Gustavsson's still going into this season as something of an unknown factor, but especially given the fact that the regular season's going to last 82 games instead of 48, St. James points out that the Wings need Gustavsson to find himself:
Looking back: As first impressions go, few have been rougher than Gustavsson’s. Signed one year ago in the hopes he’d be a solid backup and maybe even push Jimmy Howard a little, Gustavsson’s first action came as reliever in the season-opening disaster at St. Louis. Then came a groin injury that delayed Gustavsson’s next appearance for a month. He didn’t get his first start until Feb. 28, which he won. That was followed by two uninspiring starts. Gustavsson saw his last action in the March 31 blowout to Chicago, when he relieved Howard at 4-0 and proceeded to give up three goals.
Looking ahead: It benefits no one if the Wings have to run Howard into the ground during the regular season, especially now that it’s back to a regular 82-game grind. If nothing else, being spelled occasionally offers needed mental relief. The Wings are banking on Gustavsson rebounding for this coming season, when he’ll have gone through a full training camp and, it is hoped, have used the summer to exorcise the nightmare that was his debut.
Gustavsson, 28, came to Detroit because he wanted to get his career back on track after health problems had derailed it during his time in Toronto. There’s added motivation now from the fact Gustavsson will be working for a new contract. The Wings aren’t looking for Gustavsson to deliver regular shutouts — just to be stable in net, to inspire confidence in teammates and coaches, and to be a reliable reliever every week to 10 days.
Howard would have played a whopping 72 games over the course an 82-game season given his 42 appearances over the course of 48 games (82/48 = 1.708333333 * 42 = 72), and that's a recipe for disaster when you're playing six-and-a-half months' worth of hockey to simply get into the playoffs.
For better or worse, its better for the team over the long haul, and Mrazek, too, if Gustavsson finds his form.
At $1.5 million in compensation, he's practically a bargain-basement investment in goaltending, offsetting the cost of Howard's extension, and if Gustavsson can regain his form, he'll give the Wings what they need in a hurry...
Or the Wings will be looking at adding another, more expensive back-up long before the trade deadline, which would take away from their ability to add a top-four defenseman in March..
In other news, in the charitable Swedish hockey vein, in addition to Niklas Kronwall's charity game to raise funds for Jarfalla HC on Friday, August 9th in the Stockholm suburb, which Marie Hallman reported will include Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Gustavsson, Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist...
Expressen's Pontus Weinemo reports that Peter Forsberg's Icebreakers will be taking part in charity games in Visby, Sweden on August 8th and then Vilhelmina, Sweden on August 10th, and the Icebreakers' website states that Calle Jarnkrok will take part in Thursday's game. The main attractions are Forsberg, Markus Naslund and Mats Sundin, but Jarnkrok will play and wear #19.
Regarding a player who's preparing for the NHL season while watching his alma mater, the Frolunda Indians, take part in training camp in Gothenburg, Sweden, Sportsline's Brian Stubits named Daniel Alfredsson to the Ottawa Senators' All-Time Team:
Daniel Alfredsson: Duh. Even though the feelings are raw and there is some anger/resentment over Alfie leaving Ottawa this summer, Alfredsson is and forever will be a Senator. He was their long-time captain and up to this point, has played his entire 17-year career in Ottawa and thus owns just about every franchise record there is and it's not really close.
He's tops in Sens history with 1,178 games played, 426 goals, 682 assists and 1,108 points. That point total is nearly 500 more than Spezza on the all-time list. It's a shame that Alfredsson won't be able to finish his career where it began but that won't erase all the great years, especially 2005-06 when Alfredsson had 43 goals and 60 assists.
I'd also like to posit the following: it's going to be very, very intriguing to find out how Alfredsson presents himself to both the media and fans during training camp.
I remember hearing Mike Modano speak in 2010 and thinking, "Boy, this guy still thinks he's a brand name...He's not going to have an easy time embracing a secondary role," and things kind of played out that way.
The Wings still believe that Alfredsson's a second-line forward at 40, and they're certainly going to expect him to help Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk lead the team, but he's not going to have a letter on his chest, and he's not going to be "the guy" anymore, neither spotlight-wise nor in terms of speaking with the press.
The fact that Alfredsson's bringing his family to town (Modano had a condo, but the former Mrs. Modano was working in Hollywood, so it was easier to have Willa Ford visit from time to time) bodes well for both the present and the potential that Alfredsson may spend more than one season with the Wings (the Wings have never had a problem being the Belle Tire of hockey, maximizing the miles of high-mileage players)...
But he's going to have to embrace a very different role and a very different "profile," and that isn't easy when you're 40 years of age. I hope he can pull it off.
And finally, as late July and early August are "depending on the day, there's either a crapton of hockey news or very little to choose from" adventures in terms of the news cycle, I happen to be a very squeamish person (ironic given that my mother's a nurse and that my father was a probation officer--he dictated enough pre-sentencing reports while at home that I used to know the legal differentiations between negligent homicide, all the degrees of manslaughter and murder when I was a little kid), I have an automatic parental lock on the Discovery Channel this week (ditto for TLC all the damn time, but that's because I'm more afraid of Honey Boo Boo than blood and guts), but some other folks love the programming during "Shark Week," including a certain Red Wings player:
It's a wee bit difficult to follow network TV programs when you're a hockey blogger, and I'm not into much "reality TV," so my channel choices are usually limited to the National Geographic, Travel, History, Discovery, Science and Military channels, but at this point, I can handle Pawn Stars being served up as "historical," and I spend most of my TV time watching the Science channel anyway. Yay, non-hockey non-sequitur!
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.